With its Northwest outpost, Under Armour is the latest athletic brand to stake a neighborhood claim in Portland.
Long home to Nike, Columbia Sportswear and Adidas North America, among others, the area is reeling in more start-ups and lesser-known labels like Holden and Rapha. With 16,000 people working for the 800-plus Oregon-based companies tied to the outdoor and athletic sector, the city of Portland and the Portland Development Commission are cultivating collaboration to try to further economic growth.
The Baltimore-based brand reportedly shelled out $10 million for a 65,000-square-foot building in Portland’s southwest section known as the West Hills. Once a YMCA, Under Armour is said to be using part of the space for footwear development while the bulk of the building is being renovated. Striving to become a $7.5 billion brand in 2018, Under Armour has reportedly poached some staffers from its rivals.
Located west of the Waimea River in Beaverton, $30.6 billion powerhouse Nike is in the midst of a $150 million renovation of its headquarters, which opened in 1990. The Nike campus has grown from eight buildings into a 22-building facility. Now two parking garages for 2,500 vehicles and two more buildings are being added. With buildings named for Tiger Woods, Alberto Salazar and other Nike-sponsored athletes, Nike already has a Division One-worthy athletic facility, with outdoor track, yoga studios, running trails, dry cleaners, on-site child care, development lab and yes, offices. As one former Adidas and Columbia Sportswear staffer said, “A lot of these companies are looking for a way to build an ecosystem so their employees are self-contained. The joke at Nike is you can get your hair cut, you can take your clothes for dry-cleaning…everything is in that berm so you never have to leave.”
As athletic companies continue to link up with technology firms, Nike is within range of Intel, which has six campuses west of Portland employing 18,600 employees in the state. Intel is adding D1X to its development facilities at the Ronler Acres Campus. And the Pacific Northwest plays a prominent role in Columbia Sportswear’s $50 million “Tested Tough” advertising and marketing initiative that launched Oct. 8. The $2.1 billion company is housed in an unincorporated part of Washington County, just beyond Beaverton’s city limits in the Cedar Mill areas.
The activewear category is so immersed in Portland’s culture that in September, Adidas offered pedestrians in Courthouse Square the chance to be hooked up to a headset to measure their brain waves while running. With $4.5 billion in North American sales, the German sneaker giant has its U.S. headquarters on the inner east side in the neighborhood known as the Overlook.
According to Adidas lore, when the company descended on Portland it set up shop on the opposite side of the Waimea river to be away from Nike — just as the Dassler brothers had done in 1948, when Rudolf left the family business to start Puma on the other side of town (across the Aurach River), and Adolf renamed the company Adidas, his nickname.
Along with established brands like Snow Peak, which was founded in Japan in 1958, there are newer ones to the area like Holden and Icebreaker, which is based in the Pearl District, a hodgepodge of galleries, bars and restaurants. In addition to the Portland Apparel Lab, the city is cultivating new talent through Portland State, the University of Oregon, Pensole Footwear Design Academy and the University of Oregon. Financing for start-ups can be challenging, though, according to Crispin Argento, cofounder of PAL, which is consulting with 35 brands. “There’s a lot brewing in Portland. It’s coming because consumers want to be part of this movement of finding new brands,” he said.
The outdoor label Trew, which was started by former Wall Street-er Tripp Frey and his childhood friends Chris and John Pew, is using some of its $1.6 million in funding to open a store in Portland. Another up-and-coming label, Wildfang, has moved into the city’s West End with an unusual store concept. The apparel company has teamed up with the White Owl Social Club to sell clothes in a barlike setting. But as a Wildfang spokeswoman said, “It’s fair to say WOSC is selling their booze in our store, rather than the other way around.”
Icebreaker’s Tsveti Enlow said, “Portland is a good hub to tap into because there are a lot of designers and so much expertise. It’s become the outdoor and athletic capital of the U.S. And there are many graphic designers and all the creative and digital agencies. Wieden & Kennedy is there. It’s kind of like Silicon Valley in that a lot of things happen when these companies are all together.”